News: CJ Exclusives

Latest voter ID bill has wide support, but legal challenges loom

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, joins protesters at a Nov. 27 rally opposing voter ID. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, joins protesters at a Nov. 27 rally opposing voter ID. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

A bipartisan bill to implement the state’s new constitutional amendment requiring photo identification to vote whisked through the Senate Select Committee on Elections by unanimous vote. A second round of debate in the Senate Rules Committee and a second floor vote are set for Wednesday, Nov. 28.

Senate Bill 824, whose primary sponsors are Sens. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth; Warren Daniel, R-Burke; and Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, revised the draft bill which was presented Monday to the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee.

Key changes allow the use of student IDs from community colleges and private universities, along with state or local government employee IDs.

“I think it’s a really good start. I think it addresses a lot of people’s concerns who had concerns with what was an original draft put out previously,” Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, told Carolina Journal after Tuesday’s committee meeting. “I think it’s pretty comprehensive, and complies with the constitutional amendment that the voters passed.”

Daniel was pleased with the reworked bill, and hopes the accommodations made to Democrats’ concerns and suggestions will gain bipartisan support. A similar measure, House Bill 1107, was filed in the other chamber. The House measure also has bipartisan sponsorship, from Reps. David Lewis, R-Harnett; John Torbett, R-Gaston; Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth; and Duane Hall, D-Wake.

But Daniel acknowledged Gov. Roy Cooper, a longtime voter ID opponent, could veto the measure.

“I don’t think he should, but he might,” Daniel told CJ. “I can’t predict the future.” He said he has not discussed the bill with Cooper, and doesn’t know if other lawmakers have.

Even if the bill becomes law, the prospect of a legal challenge looms large.

“Obviously, there have been some groups here today opposing it,” Daniel said.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, responded to the protest from the North Carolina NAACP and voter rights groups from across the state.

“Voter ID is in the North Carolina Constitution because the people of this state support it overwhelmingly, and Republicans will follow through on that mandate,” Berger spokesman Patrick Ryan said in a news release.

“It’s a great irony that the liberal activist organization that planned today’s protest is asking a judge to invalidate the votes for the amendment while at the same time accusing us of voter suppression,” Ryan said.

“The N.C. NAACP continues to challenge in court this usurper General Assembly’s authority to place constitutional amendments on the ballot at all,” the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, N.C. NAACP State Conference president, said in a news release condemning the voter ID efforts. “We will continue to fight it and any effort to suppress the sacred right to vote in the weeks, months, and years to come,” he said in a separate release.

“Frankly, of all the states that have a voter ID law I think this is the most inclusive version that I’ve seen in the country. Some people like that. Some people don’t,” Daniel said. Staff lawyers and bill drafters have been giving bill sponsors advice on the bill’s legal framework to defend against court challenges.

“The bill is largely modeled on the South Carolina voter ID law which was upheld by a panel of federal judges, but would allow even more forms of ID than the South Carolina law including tribal IDs, student IDs, and certain expired IDs,” a press release from Berger’s office stated.

“My goal with this legislation is to ensure that any legally registered voter who shows up to vote must be allowed to vote. That includes one stop voting,” Ford said in the news release. “Even if they show up to vote without an ID, one will be provided for free. People must know that they can vote if they have lost or never had valid photo ID.”

Ford intends to offer an amendment to the bill on the Senate floor allowing voters to obtain a “photo voter ID” upon producing required documentation at their county boards of elections during the early voting period.

The bill requires county boards of elections to issue free voter photo identification cards on request to registered voters.

Amber Harris, representing the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, told lawmakers counties are concerned about costs of complying with the provision. While the bill provides funding for photo machines, it does not cover employee time, machine maintenance, and materials.

Other acceptable forms of voter ID in the bill include:

  •        North Carolina driver’s license or non-operator ID card.
  •        U.S. passport.
  •        Tribal enrollment card of federally or state recognized tribe.
  •        Military or veterans ID card.
  •        Valid out of state license or non-driver ID if the voter registers within 90 days of the election.

Exceptions to the photo ID requirement include religious objections; reasonable impediment (defined in the statute), and the occurrence of a natural disaster within 60 days of an election.

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles also would be required to automatically issue a special identification card to individuals whose driver’s licenses weren’t valid for a host of reasons.

The bill requires the state elections board to provide voter ID education programs.